Engineering giant Rolls-Royce has filed a patent for a new type of electric engine that could revolutionise commercial air travel, as it strives to streamline its operations through large-scale job cuts.
The British firm’s Indianapolis research team filed a patent in the US in November for a “combined AC and DC turboelectric distributed propulsion system,” which envisages using electric currents and generators to power planes instead of jet fuel.
Last week, the company announced that it will scrap 4,600 jobs – most of them in the UK – as part of a major reorganisation. Middle managers and back-office staff are expected to bear the brunt of the cuts, as the company emphasised its commitment to investing in “newer areas” such as electrification and digitalisation.
The patent was only made public last month. The system works by using an AC generator to produce an electrical current, which provides thrust; the current is then delivered to two sets of propulsors, the patent explains.
The placement of the distributed propulsors “positively affects the vehicle's aerodynamic performance,” it adds.
Announced last week, Rolls-Royce’s restructuring is expected to cost the company £500m, but it hopes the move will save it £400m a year by 2020.
Chief executive Warren East said: “Our world-leading technology gives Rolls-Royce the potential to generate significant profitable growth. The creation of a more streamlined organisation with pace and simplicity at its heart will enable us to deliver on that promise.”
He added that Rolls-Royce is “committed to delivering improved returns while continuing to invest in the innovation needed to realise our long-term aspiration to be the world’s leading industrial technology company”.
Around a third of the roles are expected to leave by the end of the year, with the company saying the programme will gather "further momentum" through 2019, with full implementation of headcount reductions and the structural overhaul by mid-2020.
Rob Watson, director of Rolls-Royce electrical, said: “Electrification is driving change across our markets. There is ever-increasing demand for cleaner energy and the technology that enables this is developing at an accelerating pace. Rolls-Royce has already delivered hybrid-electric propulsion systems for ships and trains, and has also been developing it for aerospace solutions. This patent is one of a number we have filed, and we are concentrating resources to develop these capabilities further.”